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Russ Feingold Launches ‘Progressives United’ To Combat Corporate Influences In Politics

HuffPost- Amanda Terkel

First Posted: 02/16/11 03:23 AM Updated: 02/16/11 08:48 AM

WASHINGTON — When some senators retire, they decide to take lucrative lobbying jobs. Others go straight to Wall Street. But Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who lost his re-election bid in November, is continuing on his principled — and often lonely — path by starting an organization to combat corporate influence in politics, an effort he hopes will spark “a new progressive movement” that will truly hold elected officials accountable.

Launching on Wednesday, Progressives United is an attempt to to build a grassroots effort aimed at mitigating the effects of, and eventually overturning, the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to corporate spending in the U.S. electoral system. In addition to online mobilization, the political action committee (PAC) will support progressive candidates at the local, state and national levels, as well as holding the media and elected officials accountable on the group’s key priorities.

“In my view — and the view of many people — it’s one of the most lawless decisions in the history of our country,” said Feingold of Citizens United in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The idea of allowing corporations to have unlimited influence on our democracy is very dangerous, obviously. That’s exactly what it does … Things were like this 100 years ago in the United States, with the huge corporate and business power of the oil companies and others. But this time it’s like the Gilded Age on steroids.”

Feingold, who is now also teaching law school at Marquette University and writing a book on foreign policy, has first-hand experience with the effects of big money in politics. While he shunned outside spending on his behalf in his campaigns, his 2010 opponent, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, was the beneficiary of millions of dollars from conservative interest groups. After his win, Johnson even went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s national headquarters to personally thank CEO Tom Donohue for the lobbying group’s unsolicited support of his candidacy.

Feingold said that Progressives United will follow the example of his own campaigns and not take any soft money or unlimited contributions. “We’re going to be reporting every dime that we get, whether required by law or not,” he insisted. “Every penny of every contribution — a practice I used as a U.S. senator. So it will be very different from the 527s and other groups that have been spawned by Citizens United. It will be 100 percent accountable, and that is an important principle that I believe in that we’ll follow to the T with Progressives United, as a way of contrasting it to what’s going on with the corporate money power that’s been unleashed by Citizens United.”

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This isn’t the first column in which I’ve addressed this dynamic and it won’t be the last. So consider the following an overview or a recap of what I feel is the disconnect between President Obama and some vocal factions within the progressive movement.

Clearly there are progressives, most visibly in the liberal blogosphere, who have ventured well beyond the realms of being disillusioned with the president to being outright antagonistic and, in a broader movement sense, utterly self-defeating. I still believe that this is based upon a misreading of political reality and a misinterpretation of the president’s first year in office. In some cases, I believe this anger is genuine and fair, and many other cases, I believe it’s wholly unfair, misguided and, dare I say, wingnutty.

Stating the obvious by way of a preface, the goal of the progressive movement is to, of course, move government further to the left and thereby achieving progressive policies. The argument right now is about how best to achieve this goal in the context of the current political landscape. I’ve always thought that a successful progressive movement involved three things: an ongoing marginalizing of the far-right; arguing for progressive policies; and promoting and encouraging the careers of politicians and organizations that are best equipped to help pass progressive legislation.

With that in mind, one of the many reasons why I endorsed, voted for and still support President Obama is because I strongly believe that he’s perhaps the only American politician equipped to move the nation in a distinctly leftward direction from within the context of the Oval Office. But at no time have I ever held any delusions that he was some kind of progressive superhero — a Kucinich or Sanders or Dean with a better jump shot and Jon Favreau on the payroll.

While Barack Obama is, in fact, a liberal, he’s not necessarily a progressive who fits squarely into the progressive movement’s wheelhouse.

But he’s close.

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I’m pissed off.

I’m pissed off at health care reform. I’m pissed off at this endless process of emotional highs and lows and exhilaration and dejection and history and infamy.

I’m pissed off that President Obama “thanked” the independent senator from Connecticut even though the senator nearly killed health care reform this week.

To that point, I’m pissed off at Joe Lieberman. I’m pissed off at his childish, vengeful, opposite-day hackery. I’m pissed off at his giant pie-shaped head and his passive aggression. I’m pissed off that he enjoys government-run Medicare benefits while opposing government-run insurance for the rest of us.

I’m pissed off at the Senate. The whole Senate. The rules, the senators, the color of the walls, the fact that a doof like Chuck Grassley can actually be elected to it. Multiple times. I’m pissed off that even though we finally have a 60 seat supermajority, it’s dysfunctional and Harry Reid is in charge of it. I’m pissed off that senators of both parties receive government-run primary care from the Office of the Attending Physician, while denying it to everyone else.

I’m pissed off at cable news and the establishment press for focusing more on The David Letterman & Tiger Woods Underpants Party than the substance of health care reform.

I’m pissed off at Rahm Emanuel and I’m pissed off at the “scary profane a-hole” mythology that’s built up around him, and how he only seems to use his powers of intimidation to bully the left.

I’m pissed off at the Republicans. I’m pissed off at their ongoing self-contradictions and lies and bumper sticker sloganeering. I’m pissed off that around 55 Republicans are on Medicare, yet they oppose government-run health care for the rest of us. I’m pissed off at Tom Coburn’s bulbous Dirk Diggler haircut.

I’m pissed off at having to compromise while a handful of lopsidedly powerful conservadems get whatever they ask for.

I’m pissed off at the Senate health care reform bill. I’m pissed off at the House health care reform bill. I’m preemptively pissed off at the conference report, too, and I don’t even know if we’ll even get that far.

And I’m pissed off that my progressivism leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that if we don’t pass health care reform now, innumerable bad things will continue to happen due to the fact that there’s a very serious health care crisis in America. I’m pissed off that I can’t, in good conscience, allow my anger to coerce me into believing that we should “kill this bill.” I’m pissed off about that, too, because I know what could have been, and yet I have no other choice but to settle for what is. For now.

But being pissed off doesn’t make this reality any less real.

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“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America — I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you — we as a people will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.”

Barack Obama,
November 4, 2008

November 4, 2009. It’s been exactly one year since Barack Obama was elected, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the president hasn’t fixed the whole world yet. Then again, he never promised such a thing. But despite some “setbacks and false starts,” we’re in considerably better shape than we were when the president delivered the above words on election night in Chicago.

One of his central goals, going all the way back to his 2004 convention speech, of building common ground between Americans of different ideologies and backgrounds is going to be more difficult than was previously anticipated. However, what’s beginning to take shape is common ground between the far-right and the far-left insofar as they’re both angrily lining up in opposition to this White House.

Of course the wingnut right — the Beck-Limbaugh-Palin Industrial Complex — has a significant head start. Plus, they’re immovable. Nothing this president does, short of resignation, will ever be greeted positively and everything will be pegged as a Nazi-Communist-Nixon-Carter-Terrorist usurping of American exceptionalism. However, on the left, there’s a growing discontentment that’s rapidly metastasizing into a similarly virulent and unchangeable anger. It not only threatens to fracture the president’s progressive base, but it could also force the president to retreat to the middle.

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